Monday, July 31, 2006

WHY CARTOONS FAVOR ZOMBIE AUDIENCES

It's amazing how many vintage cartoons contain zombie audience scenes like this one (above) from Clampett's "Henpecked Duck."
Look at the audience behind Daffy. The characters in the background painting are hazy and ghost-like, with blank faces as if they were just bussed in from Hell.

Here the audience has acquired some definition but they're still engulfed by an eerie mist and are lit from only one direction. Why did so many old-time directors favor this kind of weird treatment? The obvious answer is that drawing each individual head in the crowd would have been time-consuming and take too much attention away from the main characters. Look at these sharply-drawn Jack Davis heads (above). I don't know about you but I spend a lot more time looking at the faces in the crowd than the people in the car. So that might be the answer.....but it's not the only possible answer. Maybe zombie audiences were just plain funny.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

IT HELPS IF YOU KNOW YOUR OWN TIMES ARE FUNNY

Here's my memory of what men wore in the mid-80s(above): Dr. Martin's high top shoes, spandex bicycle racing pants, fanny pack, and a buccaneer shirt with puffy sleeves and collar wide enough for a second head, if needed. An Elvis Costello, close-on-the-sides haircut, of course. I left the shirt label out which was something guys did later on in the 90s but it looks so good with this outfit that I threw it in anyway.

I knew the 80s were funny when I was living through them. I'm furious with myself and other artists for not chronicling that period with pictures. I didn't because I thought a million other artists must have had it covered. It turns out they didn't. Amazingly the funny part of the eighties passed without drawings to record it. Equally amazing, the period we're living in now is passing unrecorded. All the bling, nose rings, baggy pants and bald heads are going to pass into oblivion, unrecorded by artists.

I know what you're thinking : plenty of underground comics and animated TV shows are recording our time, but are they? The kind of drawings I have in mind are done by artists who can see our time as campy and ridiculous, the way people in the future will undoubtedly see it. What we need are artists from the year 2040, fresh out of the time machine. For me Crumb and Wood fit that description. Both of these artists knew they were living in funny times and they took full advantage of it.

I didn't have time to find illustrations by these artists that would fit what I was trying to say. The Crumb drawing doesn't make the point at all but I'll leave it in. I did stumble on a drawing by Wood (below) that sort of fits. Guys, do you want to see it?


Saturday, July 29, 2006

ANOTHER BOOK REVIEW: "THE CRIMINAL PERSONALITY"

I thought I'd take some time out to explain why I like one of the books in my profile. I picked this one because it's the title most likely to be misunderstood. I'm not really interested in criminology per se. What I like about this book is that it's a work of practical philosophy.

The author, Stanton Samenow, is a prison psychologist. When he wrote the book he'd been working with prisoners for over twenty years. He definitely believes there's such a thing as a criminal type, someone who likes the excitement of crime and would rather die than lead a normal life. This condition is generally regarded as incurable but that's not how Samenow sees it. He came up with a therapy for it.

According to Samenow (above) the natural criminal doesn't reject the way ordinary people think, his problem is that he can't even imagine it. Not in the least. The natural criminal is a manipulator. He can't imagine any other way of thinking. He believes everybody else are manipulators too, he's just better at it. The first time you tell him him that ordinary people are not manipulators he's genuinely shocked because he's never even considered the possibility. He thinks you're putting him on.

Therapy for this type of person consists of asking him to keep a detailed record of everything he said and did with other prisoners, with an emphasis on the small things. The therapist listens to the criminal read the record and he stops the reading whenever some oddball manipulation comes up.

For example, the criminal says he asked another prisoner for a cigarette. The therapist stops him and asks if the criminal really needed the cigarette. The criminal matter-of-factly says he didn't but it was an opportunity to mess with the other guy's mind. The therapist replies that an ordinary person wouldn't ask for the cigarette unless he really wanted it. The criminal is dumbfounded and doesn't believe it. They talk about it for awhile then go on.

The criminal says he asked for a light and held the other guys arm steady when he held the match. The therapist asks why he held the arm and the criminal says it was to show the other guy who's boss. The therapist says ordinary people wouldn't have held the arm unless the light was in danger of going out. Once again the criminal is dumbfounded. It goes on like that. Over a period of two or three years the criminal gradually learns how ordinary people think. He has to learn it, just like learning a subject in school, and when he's learned it his behavior changes because people naturally adapt to new enviornments once they comprehend them.

Now I haven't the slightest idea if this if this therapy really works. What interested me about it is that it made me wonder if some people, including fairly ordinary and intelligent people, might think so differently than myself that we almost inhabit different worlds. When someone vigorously disagrees with me but seems to have a weak argument, we might be at an impasse based on completely different assumptions about life. These assumptions are often hard to articulate and the person holding them might not even be aware of them. The same goes for me.

After reading this book I decided to make an effort to get over these impasses by arguing to what I assume are the unspoken assumptions. I also decided to assume the other person was as rational as myself and had no secret animosity or evil intent in their make-up. I've been doing this to some extent ever since I read this book and I think it's worked, or at least it works half the time, which is a lot. Of course there are genuinely crazy and evil people and this technique won't work with them, but most people aren't like that.

WHERE ARE THE FUNNY CHARACTERS?

I wonder why mainstream animated features have so few funny characters. This popular film had only one, which is shown above. She wasn't on the screen very long and had only two or three expressions that I can recollect but at least the film earmarked one character for comedy and we can be thankful for that.


The family in the film weren't intended to be comedians. They were dramatic characters with occassional slightly humorous moments.


Walt had a different idea about how to inject comedy into a feature. He threw in a bunch of clowns who slurped their soup, fought with each other and engaged in broad slapstick.



To balance out the comedy he made the mean character REALLY, REALLY mean. She wasn't neurotic or mischievous, she was downright evil. The extreme behavior of the witch created so much tension that we were glad when the slapstick scenes came up. Modern fims have mild, tepid villains and slapstick, with all its funny animation possibilities, seems out of place.


If the villain in the superhero movie had been stronger, then the film would have needed a more overt and funny comedy to balance it out. Maybe comedic characters a little like those shown above, or like George Liquor (shown below) or the animated equivalent of the characters in "Dumb and Dumber," or the dog in Clampett's "Hair Ribbin." I think the audience would have liked that.


  As it was, there was no strong villain and therefore no truly funny comedy relief.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

WHAT IS THE LITTLE GIRL LOOKING AT?

Believe it or not, this Carl Larsson picture of a girl fishing over a railing is one of the most evocative pictures that I own. Over the years I've gotten cartloads of ideas by staring at it. One of the things that appeals to me about it is that there's only one human being and one deck in the scene. If lots of people had a deck fronting the water the view would be spoiled. In this case only one does. The viewer is like a king enjoying a scene that only a handful of other people will ever see.

Now obviously this is just a fantasy because with the population being what it is not even a king could afford to keep a vista like this to himself. But fantasies don't have to make sense. For example, what's the best seat in the house if you're going to out to hear a symphony orchestra? Is it in the middle of the first row? Not really. When you think about it, isn't the best seat one that would be next to the conductor? And wouldn't it be better to lie down than sit down? The best seat is a cot next to the conductor.

What would be the best place for a table if you're going to eat a reataurant meal? By the window? Not really. For me the best place would be right in the middle of the crowd rushing to and fro in the main room of a giant big-city railroad station. I like to see effective people in a hurry. I like trying to imagine what their lives must be like, and while I'm doing that I wouldn't mind a thick, juicy steak and some good wine at a well turned out table with impeccable linen. Of course no one would take notice of me. But that's my fantasy. Maybe you'd like to dine on a mesa or in the womens' dressing room of a supermodel contest.

What's the best place to put the desk that you like to work on? In a big, cushy office? Maybe, but I prefer to be outside in the tropical jungle - minus the heat and bugs. I don't mind monkies and cheetas on my filing cabinets. I think I'd like hearing tropical birds and listening to the gurgling of a near-by stream. I'd like dappled sunlight on my papers and the ozone smell that preceeds a tropical thunderstorm, which by the way wouldn't get my papers wet.

So that's why I like the fishing picture. It's all about possibility and thinking about what you really want, instead of what you'll settle for. Once in a while what you really want turns out to be what other people would really want too, and once in a while ...well, you know the rest.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

WHERE ARE THE FUNNY DRAWINGS?

What's funny? Well, for starters, this drawing by Basil Wolverton (above) is funny. Everyone I've shown this to laughs. Why do we so seldom see funny drawings like this in modern animation? It's odd to think that TV animation contains so few funny drawings. You'd think a few would slip in there, if only by accident. I'll bet the artists who designed the TV poster above have drawings of theirs pinned to their cubicles that are 10 times funnier than anything in the poster they made. Why is this? What's wrong? What's responsible for this? Why are there no crisis meetings when a poster or a comedy show fails to include funny drawings?
I love drawings like this (above) because they so obviously exist just to get a laugh. The artist isn't ashamed of being funny, he flaunts it! They're not mildly amusing products for an era of reduced expectations...they're gloriously and unashamedly reaching for a laugh! If I see one more mildly amusing animated feature or TV show I think I'm going to explode. The audience is hungry for funny drawings! Why are we witholding them?

Monday, July 24, 2006

UNCLE EDDIE'S CAREER ADVICE FOR PEOPLE WITH FACES

If you're an actor your face determines the kind of roles you play. The audience has an expectation about you based on the way you look and it's best not to disappoint them. I've often wondered if ordinary people in the real world should do what actors do, and sculpt their personalities and vocational aspirations to fit the way they look.

By way of example, the guy on the upper right (above) should clearly be a drug dealer. If he's an honest and drug-free man then that's unfortunate because nature has clearly chosen a different path for him and he'll never be happy as long as he's living a conflicted life. The guy in the middle of the second row (above) should obviously run a news stand and sell newspapers. Don't feel sorry for him because he'll make more money than you do. Customers will go out of their way to buy newspapers from a man who fits their image of what a newsie should look like.
Some people like the woman in the middle row above are cursed with a bland face. It's as if they have fewer facial muscles than everybody else. People like this are said to make good spies because they don't stand out in a crowd. Once again, don't feel sorry for these people because an inexpressive but pleasant face is deemed to be dependable and trustworthy and employers like that.
Employers don't like faces like these. They look like they're riddled with eccentricities and neuroses. if you look like these people you should put a lot of effort into finding a way to be self-employed.

MY FAVORITE FILM BOOK

This is the best film book I know of: "Grammar of the Film Language" by D. Arijon. Too many film books waste the readers time with personal anecdotes and academic jargon. A lot of this book is made up of diagrams and captions and usually you can tell what's going on without reading the captions.

The book starts with simple set-ups like the one above. I love back shots where the actor walks away from camera into the set and seems to take you with him. We cut to a side shot to pick up the actor entering sc on a close shot. It's a challenging cut but one which is never jarring or confusing.



Arijon likes to cut to actors who are in the same quadrant of the screen that they were in on the previous shot. Is this standard practice or just a preference of the author?


Here's a nifty way to walk a man down a corridor. I like the the way the third shot, where he presumably stops, deliberately violates the screen direction of the previous two shots.

A lot of the set-ups in the book are more complicated than the ones I've shown here, but most of them are understandable without recourse to the text. Skillfully done drawings will often explain things faster and better than text. It's amazing that more books aren't presented this way.

A word about Arijon: he was a filmmaker and teacher in Uruguay when he published this book in the mid-70s. Can you imagine that!? It took someone from Uruguay to show us how to write a textbook the right way!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

MY HAIR DYE STORY


You may have noticed that my hair is turning grey and that I haven't dyed it. I wouldn't be surprised if some generous soul admired me for being so close to nature as to allow my hair to take its true color. Actually I'm not close to nature at all and I'd dye my hair every day if I thought I could get away with it. I'm just not very good at hair color. One incident in particular turned me against it.

One day a couple of years ago my son told me that his girlfriend's parents were going to drop by for the first time. He naturally wanted me to clean the place to make a good impression. I thought fine, I'll do that, but first I'll dye my hair so they'll marvel at what a handsome, young-looking dad my kid has. I assembled all the paraphernalia in the bathroom and proceeded to apply the dye.

I was vigorously massaging the dye into my hair like the box said to do when I noticed that little dots of brown dye were falling into the sink and probably staining it. I didn't know what to do then it occurred to me to move over to the toilet and let the drops fall into that. Surely water and porscelin (spelled right?) would resist staining. I moved over and continued to rub the dye in, really energetically.

A while later I emerged from the bathroom all dressed, with my eyes closed and drying my hair with a towel. Just then the doorbell rang and I invited the visiting parents in. The two families assembled in the living room and a fun time was had by all.

After a while my son's prospective mother-in-law asked to use the bathroom and I pointed out where she could find it. She disappeared down the hall and everyone else continued to socialize. After a couple of minutes she appeared back in the living room only something was wrong. She looked sick as a dog. She was positively green and could hardly stand. Her husband didn't seem to notice and asked if he too could use the bathroom. He disappeared for a minute then came out a minute later even greener and more sickly than his wife. The two of them were in extremely bad shape! I couldn't figure out what was wrong. The couple made an excuse and practically ran out of the house into their car.

After they left my still and speechless family cast looks of disbelief at each other. I timidly looked into the bathroom expecting to find some dye implement that I might have forgotten to clean up. No, the room looked OK, or at least it did untill I focused on the toilet. There on the wall just behind the facility were dark streaks of brown emanating in an explosive fan pattern from the open toilet. It looked like...like... I can't bring myself to write it. I found myself turning green. Then I remembered that I was standing over the poscelin when I rubbed the dye into my hair. That was brown hair dye on the wall!

The couple never again visited us and my son and his girlfriend eventually broke up. Since then I've allowed my hair to take it's natural color. I'm frequently praised by ex-hippies for being so close to nature and so regally oblivious to what other people think. Actually I'm scared to death about what other people think. I just haven't the energy to retell the story again and again.

BTW, the girls in the picture are people I never met.

Friday, July 21, 2006

ME BABBLING ABOUT ROMANCE AGAIN

Half the artists who frequent this site are probably in San Diego for the comic convention. Good! I'm in the mood to write something really, really off-topic...something that absolutely no artist will want to read! Here goes....

TWO OBSERVATIONS ABOUT ROMANCE

First off, the picture above relates to my second point and has no relation to the kind of romance I'm writing about in this paragraph. Here I'm writing about the Romantic Era which may have started with Rousseau but reached its height in the 19th century. Now the odd thing is that the Romantic movement quickly split in two. It meant something totally different in England than it did on the continent. In England it was primarily a literary movement. It influenced poetry and stories and gave us novels like "Frankenstein." On the continent it was mainly a philosophical movement and it produced anti-Enlightenment philosophers like Nietzche and Mussolini.

English Romanticism favored people like Byron and Colleridge. Continental Romanticism favored Napoleon. Even the people who fought Napoleon openly admired him. He was informed by reason but he was said to have transcended it through his will. Continental literature of the period was full of references to will and the philosophers codified it. I love what the English did with Romanticism; I can't even begin to understand the continental variety.

Here's the second observation about romance. This time I'm talking about romance in the sense of a man and a woman falling in love. My guess is that romance is one of the factors responsible for the concept of human rights and liberty. Lots of institutions give lip service to supporting love and families but I get the feeling that every institution actually feels threatend by them. People who are passionately in love have their own agenda and they're willing to die for it. It's amazing that the medieval troubadors would have sided with this anti-social behavior. Eventually they persuaded society to support lovers at the expense of the weakening of the state. Interesting, huh?

Thanks to Steve Worth for the French postcard. Also, I hope Blogger will publish the paragraphs in type that's all the same size, as it is in the window I'm writing it in.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

SOME LESSER-KNOWN EGON SCHIELE PICTURES

Here's (above) a red woman. She's not exactly a woman painted red but red that takes the form of a woman. We are fields of color that have minds.
Here's a woman (above) reduced to just the interesting parts. She's packaged in a rich brown and presented to us. The picture is sexy but you rebel against it because there's something disturbing about the missing limbs.

Here's legs with transparent, silky stockings stretched between them. It's odd to think that a naked figure is even more naked when wearing something. Transparent color like the green shown here is riveting because our minds can't figure out whether to regard it as pure color floating in the air or as a tint of the flesh color. A vagina thrown into the composition combines the mystery of sex with the mystery of color and texture.


The white woman with the colorful crotch is pure Kandinsky but it's easier to see what Kandinsky was getting at here than in his own paintings. Color here is portrayed as a weird, otherworldly attribute that is tamed and enslaved to allow us to perceive reality, but which has a mind of its own which can assert itself and threaten to show us the chaos that underlies things.Here's an elegant line drawing that suddenly erupts in extreme volume. When you see drawings like this you wonder if volume is the fundamental atom of vision, the thing that art is all about.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

J.T. QUINN FIGURED IT OUT!

For a long time I've admired Will Elder's watercolor technique in "Little Annie Fannie" but I could never figure out how he did it. Now, thanks to an animation artist named J. T. Quinn I think I understand it.
A couple of months ago I stumbled on Quinn's blog called "JT QUINN SKETCHBOOK" and there it was, Elder's Annie Fannie technique adapted to Quinn's own sketch ideas! I recognized the look instantly!
Reading on I discovered that Quinn had taken a class with Harvey Kurtzman at SVA in New York city. Kurtzman taught the class Elder's way of painting watercolors. You build the color slowly with layers of transparent washes. Eventually you get a rich, brilliant glaze then you finish by spotting the most important color areas with a little gouache. It sounds simple but I had to read about it in Quinn's blog before I could figure it out.

Quinn's a pretty good sketchbook artist. If you visit his blog you'll find the Elder section archived under August 21, 2005.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

TWO KILLER JOHN CARICATURES



Here are a couple more caricatures that John did of me. When I think about the John drawings of me that I've posted up till now I'm amazed at how many ways there are to draw just one face. There's the optimistic me, the seedy me, the retarded me, the rat me, the eager me... it goes on. A number of the ways of thinking about me required John to try a different kind of line or a different design concept.

I don't post these drawings out of ego, because I'm the model. I do it so this aspect of what John does will get into the historical record and so that these techniques won't be lost. And since history is watching I'll cop to accidentally cutting off the final "D" in "dreaded."


Here's me in pantaloons and cod piece. I'm stupid-looking here so the "V" of the head in the disdain drawing is inverted so the wide part is on the bottom, as if my head is too stupid to resist gravity. I like the tiny soda under the soft, rubbery upper-lip flap. The five o'clock shadow looks like it's made of toothbrush bristles. Tiny granny glasses cover the seedy eyes and the long, thin spectacle arm extends all the way back to the hay-filled ear. Warts, of course. I like the restraint involved in making the wart on the end of the nose tiny and understated. If it had been bigger it would have taken our attention away from the elegant, sloping line formed by the nose and forehead. This long, continuous line is the true focus of the picture.

Monday, July 17, 2006

STEVE'S MIRACULOUS CARICATURE MACHINE

I have no idea what the final layout of this post will look like. I used Blogger settings that I was
warned away from by friends but which I had to try because my curiosity about them was eating me alive. If it all looks chaotic when it's published then I offer my apologies in advance.

Anyway here's some samples from Steve Worth's amazing caricature machine, which is actually a Mac laptop with a camera built in and with Mac Photobooth software installed. This is a $1500 package but that's probably peanuts to the filthy rich artists who frequent this blog. Just get your butler to pick one up next time he goes for a caviar run.

This program is amazing. It contains dozens of virtual lenses all of which distort the face in a different way. You just move your face around infront of the camera till you find a distortion you like then you click to save it.



I learned a lot about drawing by spending less than an hour with this machine. Look at the hand pictures...I never thought of drawing hands that way till I saw these snapshots! This is a great machine but it's going to put a lot of marker and pastel caricaturists out of business. If you do caricatures for a living then consider yourself warned!



My uncertainty about the final layout makes it impossible for me to assign names to the photos. The friends skewered here are: Steve Worth, Jon Trapnel, Marlo Meekins and myself. One more thing...um...I'm not as fat as I look standing behind Jon. That's a camera distortion. Just thought I'd mention that.

Thanks a million to Steve Worth for letting me use these pictures!